Japan: Young tsunami survivors integral in rebuilding efforts

Two years after a devastating earthquake and tsunami, Japanese seaside communities are making progress in rebuilding their lives, and children are key contributors to the rebuilding plans.

By Chris Huber, World Vision U.S.
Published March 8, 2013 at 12:00am PST

The ground shook so violently that Honoka Miura could hardly walk as she tried to escape her house to safety. Having been through the drills before, she and her family knew they must flee to higher ground — a tsunami was likely on its way.

Homes swept away

“My father, who was outside, helped me get out of the house, and we ran to a nearby hill,” said Honoka, an eighth-grader, as she recounted the magnitude-9.0 earthquake that rocked Japan on March 11, 2011.

The nearly 50-foot tsunami that followed swept away the Miura family’s home, along with the town of Minamisanriku.

“I watched a ship owned by my father’s friend being pulled out to sea and sink,” Honoka said. “The cold was numbing, and we finally managed to get to a shelter in the nursery school on the hill.”

World Vision’s response

Two years after the historic earthquake, residents are making progress toward rebuilding their lives and communities. World Vision has helped almost 300,000 people in three of the worst-affected areas — Miyagi, Iwate, and Niigata prefectures.

Initial response efforts included distributing blankets, hygiene kits, school supplies, and operating Child-Friendly Spaces, where children could continue their studies and play in a safe atmosphere.

Long-term efforts have focused on improving disaster preparedness, helping members of the fishing industry recover their livelihoods, supporting senior citizens, and assisting evacuees affected by the Fukushima nuclear crisis.

“We are still in the process of reconstruction, which is expected to continue for many years,” said Nobuhiko Katayama, national director for World Vision in Japan. “However, the Japanese people have also received much strength and encouragement from all over the world to overcome the challenges.”

A voice in the rebuilding process

In the months after the catastrophe, World Vision supported Honoka’s family and other Minamisanriku families with basic necessities at the shelter. The town of about 17,000 people bore the brunt of the wave’s impact.

“We worried about our future — whether friends had survived,” Honoka told U.N. leaders during the Special Thematic Session on Water and Disasters on March 6 in New York. “All we could do was to live each day; we felt helpless.”

World Vision staff members worked with affected youth to give them a voice in the community’s rebuilding process. Honoka’s visit to the United Nations was a result of her efforts as a youth leader in the disaster’s aftermath.

She and her peers organized events such as concerts, workshops, and playtime with children to rekindle a sense of community that the tsunami seemed to have carried away. They eventually proposed building a park and cafe in the new community center.

‘Children are our partners’

Today, town leaders have integrated their ideas as they work to plan the new town.

“Children are our partners,” said Jin Sato, Minamisanriku’s mayor. “Through the Child Participation Project conducted by World Vision, children had the opportunity to actively think about their hometown. It is very important for us to develop their confidence, because they are our partners to rebuild.”

As the people of Japan continue the journey toward overcoming the disaster, Honoka continues to inspire hope in her seaside community.

“The town’s landscape has changed forever, but we have already gotten used to it,” she said. “We are very thankful for [volunteers’] help. But we cannot rely on volunteers forever. Rebuilding our town is our job.”

How you can help

Thank God for the progress made in rebuilding, and the for the empowerment of children in their communities.

Make a one-time donation to our Disaster Response Fund to help us prepare for disasters like the 2011 Japan earthquake and tsunami. Your gift will help us rush emergency supplies like life-saving food, clean water, medical supplies, and shelter to those affected by sudden-onset emergencies around the world.